Losing Vince Wilfork was the obvious main story with the Patriots this week, and it will be no easy task in trying to replace him. They head to Cincinnati without their defensive captain or tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will miss his fifth straight game, which means they’ll need to do a lot of compensating.
The Bengals are 2-2 on the season so far and are certainly looking to get back on the right track after putting up a stinker against the Browns last week.
Tom Brady and the Patriots, meanwhile, are coming in hot at 4-0 and fresh off a big win over the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday night. Danny Amendola might be back in the fold for Brady, which would be a welcome addition, as he traveled with the team to Cincinnati.
There’s lots to look out for in this one, so let’s jump in and see what some of the keys are in this week’s Patriots Three and Out.
1. Spreading it around — The Bengals are proficient against both the pass and run, meaning Josh McDaniels and Brady will need to implement a pretty impressive gameplan on Sunday. Brady looked much more in sync with his young receivers against the Falcons, hooking up with Kenbrell Thompkins on multiple occasions to propel the offense. He’ll need to do more of the same this weekend. If the passing game is to keep rolling like they did last weekend, Brady will need to spread the ball around and get more than just Thompkins and Julian Edelman involved. The addition of Austin Collie and potentially a healthy Amendola would be a big help.
2. Filling the middle — Without Wilfork, the Patriots will be vulnerable on the interior the rest of this season. Tommy Kelly is a stud and rookie Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are more than serviceable, but the Patriots will seriously be lacking something up front without Wilfork. None of those three are real great run defenders, nor will they command double teams like VW did. Until the Patriots can bring someone else in or find a way to compensate for Wilfork’s absence, Kelly will need to step up into the veteran’s role and try to be more stout against the run. Cincy features a combination of flash — rookie Giovanni Bernard — and force — old friend BenJarvus Green-Ellis — in their backfield, which could complicate things for the Patriots. So, Kelly and the rest of the line, as well as run-game aficionado Brandon Spikes, will need to step up and fill the void.
3. Talib keeps the magic going — Aqib Talib worked wonders in single coverage against Julio Jones and Roddy White last week in Atlanta, and he’ll need that same magic when defending A.J. Green on Sunday. Andy Dalton has targeted Green on one-third of his passes this season, meaning Talib can expect to be in for another busy day. Much like Jones, Green is a dangerous vertical threat with a penchant for breaking the big play. He has incredible size (6-foot-4) and speed (in the 4.4 range), and he has some of the most reliable hands in the NFL. Talib showed that he can be one of the best cornerbacks in football last weekend, but he’ll need to prove that he can be that consistently for the Patriots.